Becoming a Lifelong Learner

Life-long Learning and Education 

From Chapter 7 – How can I master my mission language and become an educated person? 

“The more knowledge of truth we have, the better we can progress.”

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– Dieter F. Uchtdorf 1

In the first paragraph of Chapter 2 of Preach My Gospel, it states “For you to grow in the gospel and stay on the path that leads to eternal life, you need to develop a habit of gospel study (see D&C 131:6).” 2 What does it mean to develop a habit of study, and how does it apply to our lives now that we are home from our missions? For me, the answer is two words: lifelong learning.

On our missions, we each developed a habit of study. We woke up early, exercised and prepared for the day, and then diligently prepared for the lessons we would have with investigators. We would ponder their questions, search the scriptures, and pray to have the Holy Ghost inspire us with the right words in the precise moment to touch our investigators’ hearts. We knew that an effective study in the morning could mean all the difference for our investigators later in the day. We had a clear objective, and we were driven to deliver.

And then we got home. And we only had one person under our direct, daily stewardship—ourselves.  I don’t know about you, but it is infinitely easier to put myself off than to let promises made to other people slide. The same sense of urgency to study was not there when I came home from my mission. As a result, I quickly lost track of my goal to study the Gospel same amount of time as I did on my mission.  In fact, I lost almost all structure altogether and told myself that, in lieu of a set time every morning, I would study my scriptures “the first thing” after finishing my homework for the day. Riiiight. I have since learned that if you don’t make something a true priority— often having to physically schedule a time—then, really, you aren’t committed to it. In your heart of hearts, you actually value other things above your list of goals.

If we are going to truly make a habit of learning, we first need to be honest with ourselves as to where we let our time go. Consider this prophetic standard by President Henry B. Eyring: “…Too often we use many hours for fun and pleasure, clothed in the euphemism ‘I’m recharging my batteries.’ Those hours could be spent reading and studying to gain knowledge, skills, and culture. . . . Those who have planted the good word of God and have served faithfully invariably have awakened in them a great desire for self-improvement. And with that comes a desire to learn more and to gain greater skills.3  I don’t think things that we say ‘recharge our batteries’—movies, texting, tv, Facebook, etc… are bad in and of themselves, but I think not restraining those activities makes it exponentially more difficult to be a lifelong learner (as opposed to merely a consumer of “fluff” information).

Second, we need to understand that being lifelong learners really is a lifestyle choice, and one with eternal implications. As Elder Robert D. Hales taught, “lifelong learning is important because for Latter-day Saints the lifelong pursuit of knowledge is not only secular but spiritual. We understand that gaining knowledge is essential to gaining eternal salvation. Brigham Young said, ‘Should our lives be extended to a thousand years, still we may live and learn’ (JD 9:292).”4

That principle, for me, restores the urgency for my everyday learning that I once had for my morning study for my investigators. One day, I want to be as God is. How can I expect so grand a goal unless I commit myself to continual learning? A commitment to always learning is a fundamental characteristic of discipleship. Joseph Smith and his eclectic interests is a perfect example of this, and something we should all cultivate. As President Hinckley said (which is now used as a sound bite, played before every weekly devotional), “a truly educated man never ceases to learn.”5

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Third, we can be assured that God will bless us as we sacrifice to continually stretch ourselves and apply ourselves to lifelong learning.  As missionaries, we had the promise that “your increased knowledge will build your testimony and your ability to teach with spiritual power.”6 And each of us desperately needs that promise in our daily life after our mission, for our testimonies are never so entrenched as to not need continual strengthening.  As was said in our most recent conference, “A testimony is similar to a living organism that grows and develops when treated properly. It needs constant nourishment, care, and protection to thrive and prosper. Likewise, neglect or deviance from the pattern of living that a testimony clarifies can lead to its loss or diminishment.” 7 Absolutely necessary to that nourishment is lifelong learning. If one is not continually feasting upon the word of Christ—from both the scriptures and the words of the modern prophets—as well as the best knowledge of the world, I believe our soul atrophies. The surest way to a hard heart, to a defensive personality, and a loss of meaning and fulfillment in life is to stop educating yourself. To be a healthy human, we need to continually exercise our mind—it fosters openness, curiosity, and a healthy awarenesss that we are still woefully ignorant in many areas, which keeps us teachable.  (see this epic speech for more inspiration)

Lastly, and absolutely essential to the lifelong learner, is patience. There is so much knowledge in the world. The task to “be ye therefore perfect” is a daunting one. We must remember that to gain the knowledge and character of God is the process of a lifetime—of eternity.  One of the best tools of the adversary is to make us think that we must expect perfection of ourselves when we are just starting out.  The moment we see someone further along the path of learning, we conclude that we must not be doing good enough, and we are tempted to give up. Resist this “all or nothing” way of thinking—it has no place in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Christ has developed all godly attributes perfectly, and that includes patience—why would we expect more of ourselves than Christ does? As President Wilford Woodruff reminds us, “Do not be discouraged because you cannot learn all at once; learn one thing at a time, learn it well, and treasure it up, then learn another truth and treasure that up, and in a few years you will have a great store of useful knowledge which will not only be a great blessing to yourselves and your children, but to your fellow men.”8 If we are diligent in lifelong learning, we will become a tempered, tested tool in God’s hands to not only bless his children throughout the world, but also cultivate an inner peace that comes from knowing that we are progressing in our preparation for godhood.

 

Here are some ideas to get you started in incorporating lifelong learning into your busy life:

-Embrace audiobooks! Learn while you drive or work on things that don’t require 100% of your attention.

-Discover iTunes UniversityTED.comFora.tvAcademic Earth, the Khan Academy, or other repositories for free instructional videos or podcasts.

-Set a monthly and yearly book-reading goal (that doesn’t count assigned reading!)

-Write a weekly blog to distill (and share!) the things you are learning

-Carry flashcards wherever you go, to take advantage of the many “lost minutes” of the day.

-Put a scripture or a favorite quote up in your shower and memorize a new one each month.

-Get a smartphone or an e-reader, so you can read wherever you are.

-Keep a good book by your bed, all of us have nights where we have trouble falling asleep.

 

 

 

  1.  Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Truth Restored,” BYU Campus Education Week Devotional, August 22, 2006.
  2. Preach My Gospel, Chapter 2: “How Do I Study Effectively and Prepare to Teach?” 17.
  3. Henry B. Eyring, “Education for Real Life,” Ensign, Oct 2002, 14.
  4.  Robert D. Hales, “The Journey of Lifelong Learning,” August 19, 2008, Remarks given at BYU’s Campus Education Week Commencement Devotional. Education week is a yearly conference at BYU, dedicated to lifelong learning.
  5.  Gordon B. Hinckley, “The BYU Experience,” BYU Devotional, 4 November 1997.
  6. Preach My Gospel, Chapter 2: “How Do I Study Effectively and Prepare to Teach?” 19.
  7.  Cecil O. Samuelson Jr., “Testimony,” April 2011 General Conference.
  8. Wilford Woodruff , Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, Ch. 12, 269.

avatar Kendel Christensen (4 Posts)

Kendel Christensen is a University of Pennsylvania graduate, Teach for America alumni, and native of Utah. His passion is to discover and digitally organize only the most worthwhile wisdom of mankind on his website, www.KendelC.com. He teaches institute in his Washington D.C. stake and his newest project is www.learnedempowerment.com.


2 Comments

  1. Awesome post! One of the greatest habits I’m so grateful to have developed on my mission was the morning schedule toward personal study! For me anyway, I didn’t want to lose that ever, and yeah there are times when it’s not exactly on time or when it’s a breeze through, but it’s getting better and I’ve found that when I have had a good personal study in the morning, the day just goes way better. That sounds so cliched, but I think cliches are cliches because they’re true!

  2. avatar Jared Christensen says:

    Love this message. I want to keep learning every day of my life.

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